Time is a Luxury We Cannot Afford: How to Prevent Climate Security Risks

On November 17, adelphi hosted a high-level panel discussion on “How to prevent climate security risks?” at COP23. The panel was an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved and to deepen the discussion on how to prevent climate-related risks and incorporate them into policy planning.


The lively discussion involved Ronald Jumeau (Seychelles Ambassador to the UN), Enele Sosene Sopoaga (Prime Minister of Tuvalu), Peter Fischer (Deputy Director General for Globalisation, Energy and Climate Change, German Federal Foreign Office) and Krishneil Narayan (Director of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network). Chitra Nagarajan (Independent Conflict Advisor from Borno, Northeast Nigeria) joined the discussion via a video message. The event was facilitated by Dennis Tänzler (Director of International Climate Policy, adelphi).

“Deal with the climate threat, do not give people a reason to flee”

Mr. Tänzler set the stage by pointing out that climate change is a “threat multiplier”. He outlined that climate change poses substantial social and political risks, possibly leading to environmental degradation, water and food scarcity. This, in turn, might fuel future social tensions, even conflicts. Small and fragile states are particularly affected by the impacts of climate change.

Ambassador Jumeau argued that climate change is more than a threat multiplier: it is an existential threat to his country. He demanded urgent action: “Time is a luxury we cannot afford.” He highlighted that there has been a lot of talking over the last years, but “we are tired of talking, all talking adds to the hot air. We need action.” Ambassador Jumeau appealed for greater global responsibility and made the case for further emission cuts, a comprehensive transformation agenda and more financing for adaptation. He outlined that lack of progress in climate action will have consequences, including for countries that are not immediately threatened by climate change, as these will end up absorbing increasing climate-related migration flows. This poses a tremendous political, economic and societal challenge: “I tell you: deal with the climate threat, do not give people a reason to flee.” Given that climate change poses an existential threat, small islands have taken the lead in advancing the global agenda on climate change, Ambassador Jumeau said. He highlighted the efforts made by the Seychelles and concluded, “I am leading from the front and I am shouting with a voice that is much louder than my country.”

“We can do better than just talk, talk, talk”

Mr. Sopoaga and Mr. Narayan joined Ambassador Jumeau in his case for more climate action. Mr. Sopoaga illustrated the tremendous impact of cyclones on the Pacific islands and the lack of funding for strengthening resilience and post-disaster rebuilding. He argued that “climate change is a weapon of mass destruction to my country.” Mr. Sopoaga underscored the efforts of Tuvalu and highlighted the role of PCRAFI, a regional insurance solution, to finance post-disaster needs. He thanked the German government for their support to these efforts through the InsuResilience Initative and its Global Partnership Program but demanded stronger collective efforts: “Let’s be courageous. Let’s implement the talk of Paris! We can do better than just talk, talk, talk.” Ms. Narayan reviewed the developments of COP23 and stated that the Pacific islands have shown leadership in advancing the global agenda on climate change: “We are not small island states, but large ocean states.” Yet, the Pacific islands would have expected to see more progress, so the key is to move forward.

“Climate change is a cross-cutting issue”

Mr. Fischer, from the German Federal Foreign Office, appreciated and supported the commitment of the small islands states: Addressing vulnerabilities and preventing adverse consequences arising out of climate change is a priority for Germany. He highlighted that addressing climate-related challenges requires integrated approaches: “Climate change is a cross-cutting issue that involves humanitarian, development and peacebuilding activities.” Pointing to the establishment of the G7 Working Group on Climate Fragility Risks and the Planetary Security Initiative, Mr Fischer said that Germany, as member of the G7, is doing its best to learn and develop new tools and partnerships to tackle the challenges associated with climate change. Mr. Fischer also referred to the foreign policy challenges associated with displacement and migration and outlined problems in the Lake Chad region. He concluded that climate change is a threat to international security that must be taken seriously.

Conflict and climate change dynamics need to be better understood

In her video message to the panel, Ms. Nagarajan provided an overview of the conflict situation in Northeast Nigeria, the background and activities of insurgent groups and how environmental impacts aggravate the security risks in the region. She highlighted the immense pressure populations around the Lake Chad basin are under, with conflict, terrorist recruitment and gender-based violence on one side, and the loss of resources and livelihoods through climatic impacts on the other. “We are seeing increasing variability when it comes to rainfall […] and farmers that I’ve spoken to complain about the implications this has on their crops.” Although she admitted that a scientific consensus on the climate-security nexus might be problematic, a connection between these can hardly be ignored. “Both these sets of dynamics - the conflict dynamics and the change of climate - are happening in the same geographical space and to the same communities.” She reminded the international community that conflict management and mitigation strategies already exist and are already being applied. However, a better understanding of conflict and climate change dynamics and how these interact with each other is urgently needed if sound policy interventions are intended. Nagarajan stressed the role of adelphi in seeking to close this research gap through its Lake Chad Risk Assessment project.

Concluding discussion

In the subsequent debate, the discussion revolved around the pros and cons of framing climate change as a security threat. Some warned that such a framing might be lead to militarized policies, which are not conducive to addressing climate change. Others pointed to the disproportionate impact of disasters and were interested in how serious countries are about the implementation of the Gender Action Plan.

This year’s UN climate conference, COP23, was seen to represent progress, but all agreed that further and faster action is needed. Insurance solutions and ecosystem-based adaptation are important and innovative instruments to address climate-related risks, but no silver bullets, and in general, more funding is needed in support of climate-resilient initiatives. Integrated approaches, a comprehensive knowledge base, new tools and partnership are crucial to prevent and address climate fragility risks.